The BLOG: Culture

Discover good small-club jazz in Boston

When it comes to jazz served up in a small club, played by very good local performers, you can find it throughout Greater Boston, despite the recent closing of some of the region’s best-known venues. Below is a select list of clubs and arts centers – from trendy to traditional, in the city and the suburbs – that feature jazz.

Wally’s Café

Think about the romantic ideal of an American jazz club. It’s small and unpretentious, an intimate place where the up-and-coming local musicians go to fill the bandstand and learn their trade while a group of regulars, many of them also musicians, listen intently. You can walk in almost any night of the year and be assured of hearing jazz. And you can stay out past midnight to soak up the sounds and sip a scotch.

That would be Wally’s Jazz Café, which is, as far as anyone can tell, the oldest continuously operating all-jazz club in the U.S. Wally’s is just a short hike from the three music schools that provide many of the musicians who appear at the club: Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory and Boston Conservatory.

Wally’s was started in 1947 by Joseph L. “Wally” Walcott, who operated it until his death at age 101 in 1998. Wally’s now is run by his grand- and great-grandchildren. For more information, visit the website, send an email or call 617-424-1408.

The Beehive

The Beehive is a trendy South End hang with very good American comfort food, a wide selection of the latest cocktails, and an eclectic mix (befitting the South End) of jazz, by newcomers as well as Boston mainstays. Known for its food as much as for its music. Also on the menu: reggae, cabaret, burlesque, blues, and great local performers such as Michelle Willson, dishing out an amalgam of classic Dinah Washington coupled with more modern R&B. Located at the Boston Center for the Arts on Tremont St., visit the website, send an email or call 617-423-0069 for more information.

Ryles Jazz Club

Located in the heart of Inman Square in Cambridge, Ryles offers jazz and barbeque downstairs, and salsa dancing upstairs. Local performers hold sway many Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday nights, with bigger acts on the weekends. For more information, visit the website, send an email or call 617-876-9330.

The Lily Pad

Also in Inman Square, the Lily Pad is for the hardcore jazz fan. This tiny bare-bones space – not much bigger than a lily pad, with seating for only 60 – survived for years without a liquor license. You didn’t come for the drinks or the tony nightclub atmosphere, since there was none to be found. You came to hear good jazz or you didn’t come at all. The Pad now has a beer and wine license and takes credit cards, but its music is still the reason to make the scene. The Lily Pad is home to the Fringe, one of the best avant-garde bands in jazz, featuring tenor saxophonist George Garzone, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Bob Gulotti, which has played Monday nights in Cambridge for more than 40 years! Upcoming concerts include the likes of Dave Liebman, Ra-Kalam Bob Moses, Jerry Bergonzi, Mili Bermejo. Jazz jams the first and third Sundays of the month at 9 p.m. featuring the David Arteaga Quartet. Open for music almost every night of the year. For more information, visit the website or call 617-955-7729.

The Center for Arts in Natick

The Center for Arts in Natick, or TCAN, as it’s universally known, is more folk- and rock -oriented these days than when it was run by founding director Michael Moran, but it still hosts the occasional jazz concert. Smooth jazz guitarist Larry Carlton is in town Dec. 11, and seminal jazz fusion drummer Billy Cobham played the venue in September. We’ve put it on the list because TCAN is one of the best small-concert venues outside of Boston. It’s small (270 or fewer seats, depending on the configuration), without a bad seat in the house, and the sound and lighting systems are without equal. The staff at TCAN keeps the converted firehouse, built in 1875, in tip-top shape. Keep an eye out for jazz on the program by going to or calling 508-647-0097.

Amazing Things Art Center

Started by Michael Moran after he left The Center for Arts in Natick, The Amazing Things Art Center (nickname: ‘Zing) in Framingham regularly books jazz acts and hosts a Jazz Show and Jam almost every Tuesday night from 8-11 p.m. The first hour of the jam features one of five rotating bands. The remainder is for a jam session where players of all levels are welcome to sit in with the band. Featured acts at the 150-seat center include top-flight local artists such as Laszlo Gardony, Greg Abate and Bruce Katz. For more information, visit the website or call 508-405-2878.

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile can be reached at [email protected].